If you still had any doubts that these are not the same Buffalo Bills of recent years, your mind should be at ease after this one. Being down late in the second half and desperately needing a big play, the Bills delivered and defeated the Miami Dolphins Sunday, 23-21 to pick up their first road win in over a full calendar year.
Simply put, there’s no way the Bills win this kind of game last year…or the year before.. or the year before that. With a slew of key injuries that have players either out or playing far less than 100 percent, Buffalo gutted out a victory over a divisional rival thought to be better that had two weeks to prepare.
How the Bills end up in the standings compared to recent years remains to be seen and the difference may barely be noticeable, but there’s no longer any denying this is an improving product that’s headed in the right direction.
Here’s a list of random smattering I compiled during and after this game:
♦ If you have anything bad to say about Mario Williams at this point of the season you’re just looking to be a hater. No one on this roster is more responsible for the Bills first win in over a calendar year than Williams. I strongly suspect Tyson Clabo will have nightmares tonight over Mario and as for Ryan Tannehill, Williams came close to giving him an involuntary nap after that hit on his first sack in the fourth quarter. Of course, it was Williams’ second sack of the final quarter that caused a turnover and set the Bills up for the win. For those counting Williams is up to 10 sacks already this season, the most ever on this team after seven games. Beyond the sacks he’s been an asset against the run and overall is flat-out playing like the superstar the front office thought he was when they gave him the insane contract in 2012.
♦ My wife is a huge Fred Jackson fan, and I thought at the time I was delivering her sad news. You see, she was visiting the restroom when Jackson took that first quarter screen pass and rumbled down the sideline 21 yards for a first down before getting rolled by Scott Chandler. Immediately I thought his knee was torn and his season was over after seeing the angle of the play and the heavy wincing in pain reaction by Jackson that ensued. After the play I yelled to the her in the bathroom to say goodbye to Jackson for the rest of the season. I should’ve known better. That man is an animal and the least surprising thing ever that he not only returned, but played a huge role in the win. This guy deserves every bit of adoration he gets from fans and more.
♦ Loved That Lewis’ gutsy effort and his enthusiasm, though he looked every bit the part of a quarterback trying to find his way in the league. His numbers (21-of-32 for 202 yards, one interception) were respectable enough, but he made plenty of poor throws and held the ball for too long. He also is developing a maddening habit of taking a page from the Trent Edwards playbook and throwing well short of the marker on third downs. He’s miles ahead of Jeff Tuel with E.J. Manuel out and hopefully he continues to improve on the little things that will make him more effective going forward.
♦ When the Bills announced their final 53-man roster after the preseason, I admittedly found it comical to see Nickell Robey’s name on the team, especially after he fumbled punts inside his own 10-yard line in consecutive exhibition games. I’m not laughing anymore. Quite obviously the Buffalo brass saw something they like in Robey and after coming tantalizingly close to making a big play the past few weeks, he struck on the third play by picking off Ryan Tannehil and returning it for the game’s first score. This kid isn’t a bad player.
♦ Aaron Williams padded the stat sheet on an interception of a horrific Tannehil throw, but he’s lucky to not be a goat Monday morning. On Miami’s last drive he got away with what should’ve been a pass interference penalty and inexplicably let Brian Hartline get behind him the next play for what could’ve been a game-winning touchdown, but Tannehill missed the throw. I give Williams credit for bouncing between safety and corner like a yo-yo since the summer, but there’s no in between with him—he either makes the spectacular play—or mind-blowingly bonehead mistake.
♦ I’m glad Doug Marrone said after the game that Dan Carpenter’s kickoff following the go ahead field goal was not intentionally short. I thought it was a strategic decision and the victim was nearly my large screen plasma, which came close to meeting its untimely demise when Carpenter didn’t boot the ball through the end zone after doing so on four of his previous five kicks. Buffalo’s coverage blew the Cleveland game and nearly did it again in Miami.
♦ Sticking with Carpenter, this guy has been clutch. He’s hit 15-of-16 field goals including all three attempts from 53 yards. Dustin Hopkins may be the future, but this guy is making a big impact in 2013.
♦ Kudos to C.J. Spiller for trying to tough it out over the past few weeks, but it may be time for Marrone to sit him for a week or two, as he’s been completely ineffective due to his ankle injury. Spiller ran six times for 11 yards and caught three balls for negative four yards. Right now he’s not even a better option than Tashard Choice. Rest him and get him right so he’s more useful over the second half of the season.
♦ The offensive line was pretty brutal against a formidable Miami front seven. Lewis was sacked four times and pressured many other times. To be fair to the line, Lewis needs to get rid of the ball sooner. Still, they need to do a better job. The Bills averaged just three yards per rush on 30 attempts.
♦ Stevie Johnson’s return was much needed as the Bills top receiver caught six balls for 61 yards. As bad as the offense often was on Sunday, I can’t fathom how much worse it would’ve been without him.
♦ Looks like Manny Lawson’s hamstring is going to be a significant issue as the run-stuffing linebacker re-aggravated it early in Miami.
♦ The Bills allowed Miami to convert just 3-of-13 third down opportunities— a huge reason the team was victorious.
♦ Tannnehill was overall terrible for the Dolphins. Maybe he just hates playing the Bills. That’s now two of three games in his young career where he’s looked awful against Buffalo.
♦ What is up with the premature celebrating? Nigel Bradham acted like the Bills just won the Super Bowl after sacking Tannehill in the second half, and the play didn’t even count thanks to a defensive holding penalty on Stephon Gilmore. Bradham barely has a dent of impact on the team season, so the dancing around after making one play is not a good look.
♦ I admire Gilmore’s toughness to get back on the field with a club cast on his arm, but much like an unhealthy Spiller I’m thinking his presence is a bit detrimental to the cause. Tannehill picked on Gilmore for a portion of the game and I can’t believe Miami didn’t more. The guy has basically one arm and can’t jam receivers efficiently at the line.
♦ Hated Marrone’s game management late in the first half when the team took over at their own 24 with 1:34 left in the half and threw three incomplete passes, taking just 13 seconds off the clock near the end of the second quarter. Buffalo punted and Miami had enough time to move 75 yards for a touchdown with 21 seconds left. The Bills had a two score lead at the time and on the road, you get conservative and take that into the locker room with you.
♦ These are not the type of games the Bills typically win, another indication that the culture of this team is rapidly changing. Buffalo is still only 3-4 on the season, but they’ve literally been in every game this season despite a brutally tough schedule, and they’ve put up at least 20 points in every contest. The growth and potential we’re seeing in front of our eyes makes the high probability of another season without the playoffs far more bearable. They have an incredibly tough contest next week at a New Orleans team coming off their bye week. I’ll be floored if the Bills are around late in the fourth quarter, although I really shouldn’t be—this team just may be for real.